Thursday, December 22

Letter sent 12.21.11

Dear President Obama,
This is, admittedly, a little strange: as a public figure-one whom I employ, no less-I have a sense of you but we’ve never met. Yet I’m writing a letter, something that, in this day and era has become, I hope, a bit more personal than it used to be. That you don’t know anything about me is what makes this unusual, at least from my end.

Perhaps a few details will help: I’m 39 and I just bought my first house in Portland, OR. I’ve lived in the Pacific NW all my life but I was fortunate to travel to Europe in college and that did a great deal to broaden my horizons. I’ve also been lucky enough to have enough money to indulge the occasional whim and still keep a roof over my head. I brew beer and play games as a way of making and strengthening my social circle. I’ve been dating my girlfriend for seven years and I’m very glad she likes me as much as she does. I read as much as I can, write when I’m able and walk every day to get some exercise.

I don’t expect you will read this, nor have the time to respond. That’s OK: I’m writing this just as much for me as I am to you. If this letter is fortunate enough to make it to you personally, then I count myself lucky. I’d prefer not to get a form letter back. I’m a citizen and I have some things to say. If we can’t have a discussion, well that’s alright but I’d ratjer we didn’t have a discussion because you’re the President and busy and I’m a citizen and busy than us having a ‘pretend’ discussion where I get pre-stamped responses.

Maybe when this is all over, and the letters have been written, your term is done and things settle down a little (which may be some time away, I understand) then we could have a beer. In the meanwhile, let’s get to talking, shall we?

I’ve been watching things as closely as I’m able and I’ve heard you use the phrase “it’s the right thing to do” in the State of the Union Address. I’m not sure that you and I agree on what the right thing is, unfortunately. Is the right thing to do prosecuting, with even greater vigor, whistleblowers in the government, or firing people who have a different point of view?

Does doing the right thing include using drones against faraway people, especially those whom the government has not used evidence to prove they are a threat to the citizenry, not going after the fraud on Wall Street, despite the tremendous wave of economic damage they have wrought upon not only our country but the world, or advocating the rights of corporations through things like the SOPA act, or dangerously extending the government’s powers via the Patriot act, up to and including bill S. 1867 which would allow for indefinite imprisonment, even of US citizens, accused of terrorism, and that they be tried via the military instead of the civilian court system?

Is the right thing to do to employ many of the architects of our current crises with the direction of fixing it? To allow the people to get away with crimes both fiscal and moral?

That, of course, is just a sampling of things that I am aware of and when I hear you talk about the right thing to do, I can’t help but question what it is that you know about the right thing versus what I know about the right thing to do. I accept that you are privy to information that I am not but I would be willing to bet that in most of those cases, the information you know doesn’t change a thing.

Naturally, I don’t blame all of this on you. You have to make choices and they can’t all be good ones. The health care debacle that came last year, the manufactured debt ceiling crisis; these events do not settle on your shoulders alone.

But you’re the person I talk to, because you’re the person who needs to speak up.

Which leads us to what I think is the next problem.

America suffers from a lack of vision. As the President of the US, I expect you to articulate a vision for us, to raise the bar and tell us what the great thing is that we, as a country, should be striding for.

But you do not articulate that vision. You articulate standards or, sadly, you articulate nonsense. The best example of the former I can think of is in the last State of the Union, you told us that our goal should be to cut fossil fuel dependency by 80%.

No. That is not our goal. Our goal is to cut fossil fuel dependency for personal vehicles 100% by 2030. No exceptions. That’s a goal. Anything else is a standard, is something that can have exceptions made to it.

Of the latter, the phrase ‘win the future’ comes to mind. This is a tragic use of language for anyone who is paying attention. No one can win something that doesn’t exist, Mr. President, and the future, by its very nature, is always out of reach.

My problem with that language is simple: Americans don’t like things that are unwinnable, (see our dispassion for soccer, a game that willfully accepts ties) and despise things that allow us to get away with less than our best (see the public’s current contempt for Congress.)

We want to be challenged, Mr. President. More than anything else, I think this is what is lacking: great things are not asked of us, expectations are no longer high, and when someone maliciously screws up, they are no longer punished. I don’t mean punishment for failure (although I think consequences still should exist,) I mean punishment for wrongdoing. It may have always been true that people with wealth and power could get away with more but at least in America, for a time, there was an effort to ensure that everyone was equal under the law.

This includes those who hate us. Which is why, yes, it IS hard to bring terrorists to trial in order to bring them to justice but it is something that we, as a country, need to do. It is painstaking to ensure economic equality, to prosecute for difficult crimes and yet by not doing these things, you and those like you in the Beltway, are essentially saying: We don’t think America can handle the difficult choices or make the needed sacrifices.
But we can, so long as it is fair and just.

We need to do the difficult thing, Mr. President. We need to be challenged to be our best and we, as a people, need you to articulate that goal for us, so we have something to reach for. Something concrete and accomplishable, something that does not allow for failure, something that is bolder and defies the wasteful paths of the last three decades.

And we need you to set that bar and then let us meet it. I am, as a citizen, expecting great things from you, because those expectations need to be met and I voted for you in part because of the merits you brought to the table, suggesting that you would be able to the task. Ask of us. Ask great things of us, but ask them of all of us or do not bother, Mr. President.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to you, your family and friends, sir.